The main reason dogs have such problems with dental health is they don’t have opposable thumbs and have trouble holding a tooth brush. It’s no wonder they have potty breath! There are many products available for helping to keep your dog’s smile bright, from dental treats to chew toys. But the best way to stay ahead of canine tooth problems is to brush your dog’s teeth.
Dogs probably won’t open wide for you without some training. Ideally you should brush your dog’s teeth after every meal, just as you do your own. But any amount of brushing you can manage will reduce dental problems and save you the cost of professional cleaning.
How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth
- Start training from the time you bring your puppy home. Handle their muzzles, open their mouths and gently feel the teeth to get pups used to having something manipulating their mouths. Just lift the dog’s lips without trying to force the mouth open, and offer a dental treat when they allow this.
- You can use a soft human baby-size toothbrush, a dog tooth brush, or a “finger” brush for dogs. Some dogs hate having something stuck into their mouth but will accept a beloved owner’s fingers, so the finger brush that slips over your index finger may work best. You can also wrap your finger with a wash cloth or piece of gauze.
- Only use dog-approved tooth paste. Human toothpaste contains fluoride and since dogs won’t spit, the swallowed paste can be bad for them. Pet tooth pastes come in chicken, malt, beef and other flavors. Let your dog sniff and taste a sample of the paste before you begin.
- Once they taste (and like!) the paste, put a bit on your bare finger and slip it inside your dog’s mouth to rub against the outside of the teeth. You don’t have to worry about the inside of the teeth because the dog’s tongue keeps that surface pretty clean.
- After the dog accepts your flavored finger, you can put some of the toothpaste on the finger or dog tooth brush. Hold your dog’s mouth closed with one hand while you slip the brush under the lips and brush the outside of the teeth. Pay particular attention to the molars in the cheek region. Remember to always praise dogs when they accept the brushing. Aim for brushing a couple times a week.
Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, consultant to the pet care industry and the award winning author of 23 pet care books.